By Aditi Sangal, Maureen Chowdhury, Jessie Yeung, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Ben Morse, Jeevan Ravindran and Ed Upright, CNN
Updated 0406 GMT (1206 HKT) April 28, 2022
9:16 a.m. ET, April 27, 2022
3 Norwegian diplomats have been expelled from Russia, Norway says
From Amy Cassidy in London
Russia has expelled three Norwegian diplomats, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs press office told CNN on Wednesday.
It comes after Norway granted the same number of Russian diplomats persona non grata earlier this month in response to the atrocities alleged to have been committed by Russian forces in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.
It marks the latest retaliatory move from Russia amid a mass expulsion of diplomats across Europe in response to the war in Ukraine.
9:05 a.m. ET, April 27, 2022
American Trevor Reed has been exchanged for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko
From CNN's Radina Gigova and Anna Chernova
American Trevor Reed has been exchanged for Russian national Konstantin Yaroshenko, Russia's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
Yaroshenko is a Russian pilot who had been detained in Liberia by undercover US Drug Enforcement Agency agents on May 28, 2010, and brought to the US, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
US Drug Enforcement Agency agents ostensibly obtained evidence Yaroshenko had criminal intent to transport a large batch of cocaine, according to TASS.
The Russian pilot has pled not guilty, describing his arrest as a provocation and all charges against him as fake, according to TASS.
"As a result of a lengthy negotiation process, on April 27, 2022, US citizen Trevor Rowdy Reed, previously convicted in the Russian Federation, was exchanged for Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison by an American court in 2010," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on her official Telegram channel Wednesday.
9:55 a.m. ET, April 27, 2022
Trevor Reed has been released, but other Americans remain detained in Russia
From CNN's Veronica Stracqualursi and Jennifer Hansler
While US citizen Trevor Reed was released from Russian custody, at least two other Americans — basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan —remain detained in Russia.
Griner was arrested in Russia in mid-February on allegations of drug smuggling. A Moscow court recently extended her arrest until May 19, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
While her legal team has had access to her and was able to see her several times a week throughout her detention, a US official from the US embassy in Moscow was finally granted consular access to Griner in late March, and said they found her to be in “good condition.”
Whelan, a US citizen, has been detained in Russia since 2018 after he was arrested on espionage charges, which he has consistently denied. He was convicted and sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison in a trial US officials denounced as unfair. In a June, he told CNN of the grim conditions of the remote labor camp where he works in a clothing factory he called a “sweatshop” and said obtaining medical care is “very difficult.”
On Wednesday, Whelan's family expressed happiness at the release of Reed, but said it is a day of “varied emotions” and questions for them.
“It's the event that we hope for so much in our own lives. Hopefully, Trevor will now get the medical attention and care he needs deserves,” Whelan’s brother David Whelan said in a statement Wednesday. “He is reunited with his family.”
“Trevor is free. Paul remains a hostage,” David Whelan continued.
Both Whelan and Griner's families have been fighting for their freedom. The Biden administration has said it will continue to work for both of their releases.
“The case of Paul Whelan is one we continue to work day in, day out,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told CNN Wednesday. “Paul Whelan is wrongfully detained in Russia."
“When it comes to Brittney Griner, we are working very closely with her team. Her case is a top priority for us,” Price continued. “We're in regular contact with her team."
8:52 a.m. ET, April 27, 2022
Family of Trevor Reed and US President Biden say he has been released
"Our family has been living a nightmare. Today, our prayers have been answered and Trevor is safely on his way back to the United States," the family said in a statement.
"We’d respectfully ask for some privacy while we address the myriad of health issues brought on by the squalid conditions he was subjected to in his Russian gulag," the family continued, although they did not specify how many days Reed was detained.
They thanked US President Joe Biden "for his kindness, his consideration, and for making the decision to bring Trevor home," adding that Biden's action "may have saved Trevor's life."
Biden also confirmed Reed's release, saying he had shared the news with his family.
“Today, we welcome home Trevor Reed and celebrate his return to the family that missed him dearly. Trevor, a former U.S. Marine, is free from Russian detention," Biden said in a statement. "I heard in the voices of Trevor’s parents how much they’ve worried about his health and missed his presence. And I was delighted to be able to share with them the good news about Trevor’s freedom."
Reed’s release came due to a prisoner swap for Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on her official Telegram channel.
“The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly. His safe return is a testament to the priority my Administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad,” Biden said.
He went on to call for the release of detained security director Paul Whelan, who was first arrested in 2018, saying he would not "stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends."
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also welcomed the release of Reed in a statement Wednesday "while continuing to call for the release of wrongfully detained" Whelan.
"We also remain committed to securing the freedom of all U.S. nationals wrongfully detained abroad," he said.
8:16 a.m. ET, April 27, 2022
It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know
Russia turns off oil tap: Russian energy giant Gazprom has shut off gas supplies to both Bulgaria and Poland's state-owned gas companies after the two countries refused to pay in rubles in a dramatic escalation of tensions with the West. The European Union has accused Russia of trying to “blackmail” the bloc with gas, accusation which Russia has denied.
Mystery explosions: Blasts were heard Wednesday in three Russian regions bordering Ukraine, local authorities and Russian state media reported. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made cryptic references in response to reports of the overnight explosions. Myhailo Podolyak said that "the Belgorod, Voronezh, and Kursk regions are now also beginning to actively study such a concept as 'demilitarization.'"
Kherson's "sham referendum": Many civilians are fleeing Kherson, located in southern Ukraine, ahead of what Ukrainian leaders have called a sham referendum staged by Russia. Kherson and its surrounding areas were the first to be taken by advancing Russian forces early in the war, and Russia now plans to hold a vote in the region to try to show popular support for the creation of a new entity called the Kherson People's Republic.
Fighting intensifies: Ukraine has acknowledged the loss of several eastern towns and villages as Russia steps up its ground offensive. Russian forces have taken control of the town of Zarichne, and have started attacking nearby Yampil. Despite the loss of territory, Ukrainian authorities said nine enemy attacks were repulsed in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions alone, with Russian equipment destroyed --including nine tanks and 11 artillery systems.
Sending help: British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will urge Western allies to supply Ukraine with warplanes and other heavy weapons, according to a news release from the UK’s Foreign Office published Tuesday. It comes as NATO countries ramp up their military support for Ukraine. In a major policy U-turn on Tuesday, Germany announced it will supply Ukraine with anti-aircraft tanks. Canada and the UK also announced they would supply more heavy weapons on Tuesday.
8:52 a.m. ET, April 27, 2022
Russia says it will release former US Marine Trevor Reed in exchange for Russian prisoner
From CNN's Anna Chernova and Radina Gigova
Russia said on Wednesday it will swap former US Marine Trevor Reed for a Russian prisoner held in the United States.
"As a result of a lengthy negotiation process, on April 27, 2022, US citizen Trevor Rowdy Reid, previously convicted in the Russian Federation, was exchanged for Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison by an American court in 2010," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her official Telegram channel Wednesday.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti also reported the move.
7:42 a.m. ET, April 27, 2022
European Union proposes to drop all tariffs on imports from Ukraine
From CNN’s James Frater in Brussels
Following a request from Ukraine, the European Commission proposed on Wednesday a series of temporary “trade-liberalizing measures” that would enable Ukraine “to maintain its trade position with the rest of the world and further deepen its trade relations” with the European Union.
“These temporary and exceptional measures will contribute to supporting and fostering the existing trade flows from Ukraine to the [European] Union” and “would add flexibility and certainty for Ukrainian producers," the Commission said in its proposal.
The Commission said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “has had a profound negative impact on Ukraine’s ability to trade with the rest of the world.”
And to mitigate the economic impact of the aggression, the Commission explained it was “appropriate and necessary” to accelerate closer economic relations between the EU and Ukraine “in order to provide a quick support to the Ukrainian authorities and the population.”
The recommendation -- which would be valid for one year -- would include a “temporary suspension of all outstanding tariffs” and establish a “deep and comprehensive free trade area” between Ukraine and the EU.
The Commission proposal would remove all tariffs, import duties on industrial products, fruit and vegetables as well as drop quotas on agricultural and processed agricultural products.
In this proposal the Commission hopes that these measures would “establish conditions for enhanced economic and trade relations” with the aim of “Ukraine's gradual integration in the EU Internal Market.”
In a statement, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said, “I have been in discussions with President [Volodymyr] Zelensky on ways of supporting the economy,” and that today’s proposal “will greatly facilitate the export of Ukrainian industrial and agricultural goods to the EU.”
The proposal now needs to be signed off by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.
8:18 a.m. ET, April 27, 2022
Kremlin rejects accusations of blackmail in stopping gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria
From CNN's Anna Chernova
The Kremlin has rejected accusations of blackmail in its move to halt gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, after they refused to pay in rubles.
“This is not blackmail,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a regular conference call.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had accused Russia of using gas to “blackmail” the bloc, after Gazprom said it halted supplies to the two countries on Wednesday.
“The need for the conditions that were documented in President [Putin’s] decree, meaning the new payment method, was caused by unprecedented unfriendly steps in the economy and financial sector undertaken against us by unfriendly countries,” Peskov said.
According to Peskov, Russia was forced to switch to payment in rubles for gas supply to Europe due to the new restrictions.
“We had a significant amount of our reserves blocked, or 'stolen', putting it simply. All this required a transition to a new payment system,” Peskov went on to say.
Peskov added that all the new conditions “were brought to the attention of buyers in advance.”
7:25 a.m. ET, April 27, 2022
Almost 2 million barrels of Russian oil have been imported into UK since Ukraine invasion, says Greenpeace
From CNN's Robert Iddiols in London
The United Kingdom has imported nearly 2 million barrels of Russian oil since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, according to figures released by Greenpeace on Wednesday.
Shipments totaling 1.9 million barrels, with an estimated value of $276 million, have flowed into the UK despite a raft of international sanctions leveled against Russian businesses intended to weaken the Kremlin’s war machine, Greenpeace said.
“A total of eight tankers have delivered shipments of Russian oil to the UK since Russia first invaded Ukraine on 24 February, averaging one every week,” Greenpeace said in the statement.
The UK government has imposed a ban on Russian owned, operated or flagged ships from entering the UK. However, Russian fossil fuels are still able to pour into Britain via tankers owned and flagged by other nations.
“The UK government is no stranger to hypocrisy but pledging ‘unwavering support’ to Ukraine while shipping in almost 2 million barrels of Russian oil is utterly disingenuous, even by Boris Johnson’s standards,” Georgia Whitaker, oil and gas campaigner at Greenpeace UK said.
Downing Street has said it will phase out imports of Russian oil, but only by the end of the year.
“Despite the mounting death toll, the UK government has given itself until the end of the year to stop importing Russia’s bloody oil," Whitaker added.
“Sanctions don’t work until they’re implemented and eight more months of oil and gas imports is eight months too many. It’s clear we need an explicit and immediate ban on all Russian fossil fuels,” Whitaker said.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We will phase out Russian oil by the end of the year, and imports of Russian liquid natural gas as soon as possible thereafter."
“The UK has no issues with either gas or oil supply, and unlike Europe we are not dependent on Russian energy imports," the spokesperson said.
On Monday, Greenpeace activists chained themselves to the anchor of a Russian oil tanker bound for a Norwegian port, demanding the Nordic nation cease importing Russian fossil fuels.